Important people were often depicted with large heads because the artists believed that the Ashe was held in the head, the Ashe being the inner power and energy of a person. Their rulers were also often depicted with their mouths covered so that the power of their speech would not be too great. They did not idealize individual people, but they tended rather to idealize the office of the king.
The city was a settlement of substantial size between the 9th and 12th centuries, with houses featuring potsherd pavements. Ilé-Ifè is known worldwide for its ancient and naturalistic bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures, which reached their peak of artistic expression between 1200 and 1400 A.D. After this period, production declined as political and economic power shifted to the nearby kingdom of Benin which, like the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, developed into a major empire.
Bronze and terracotta art created are significant examples of realism in pre-colonial African art.
In his book, “The Oral Traditions in Ile-Ife,” Yemi D. Prince referred to the terracotta artists of 900 A.D. as the founders of Art Guilds, cultural schools of philosophy, which today can be likened to many of Europe’s old institutions of learning that were originally established as religious bodies. These guilds may well be some of the oldest non-Abrahamic African centres of learning to remain as viable entities in the contemporary world.